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Knights of the Realm: Uncover your Ancestors' Great Deeds

The Findmypast team
5 January 2016

Are there Knights or Dames in your family tree?

The Britain, Knights Of The Realm & Commonwealth Index records the details of over 35,000 individuals who have been awarded orders of chivalry by the British monarchy, and is filled with fascinating details surrounding the lives and achievements of some of the most distinguished figures in UK history.

The British Honour System

The honours system was introduced as a means of rewarding individuals' personal bravery, achievements, or service. While Anglo-Saxon monarchs were known to have rewarded loyal subjects with rings and other symbols of favour, it was the Norman Kings who first introduced knighthoods to Britain in the 14th century.

The first English order of chivalry, the Order of the Garter, was created in 1348 by Edward III with 25 founder knights and is ranked as the highest British civil and military honour obtainable. The earliest records of the order were unfortunately destroyed by fire, making it difficult for historians to be certain of its original purposes, the significance of its emblem, and the origin of the order's motto; "shame on him who thinks evil of it". One theory is that Edward wished to create an elite order similar to the Round Table of Arthurian legend to assist him in his the fight for the French crown.

King Edward III, first sovereign of the Order

King Edward III, first sovereign of the Order

Although the reigning monarch remains the "fountain of honour" when it comes to recognising service, the processes of identifying candidates has changed considerably over time. Various orders of knighthood have been created throughout history as well as awards for military service, individual bravery, merit, and achievement which take the form of decorations or medals.

The Records

The Knights of the Realm Index is comprised of individual transcripts that list a recipient's name, birth year, death year (if applicable), the type of award they received and the date they received it. Transcripts can also include a biography which will often include the recipient's rank or position/occupation and any additional remarks, such as where they were dubbed.

The index was created by Colin J Parry over a 40 year period to determine how many knights were made in each century and, furthermore, to discover who received such honours and orders of chivalry. Parry chose to start his database with knighthoods from the 16th century, as earlier awards are difficult to verify. However, Parry has been able to confirm a number of earlier knighthoods, which has led to the inclusion of several hundred pre-1500 knights in the database.

The index covers 17 different honours and decorations, both current and dormant.

A painting by Edmund Leighton depicting a fictional scene of a knight receiving an accolade

A painting by Edmund Leighton depicting a fictional scene of a knight receiving an accolade

Honours are split into classes (or orders) and graded to distinguish different degrees of achievement or service. Each order comes with its own title which is often abbreviated. For a comprehensive list of abbreviations used in this record set, follow the link for our complete list of abbreviations used in Britain, Knights of the Realm index. You can also learn more about the history of the various honours and titles covered by reading our Britain, Knights of the Realm chronologies page.

Knight Bachelor (Kt Bach) is the lowest rank of knighthood for a male recipient and is not part of an order of chivalry. The lowest rank of knighthood for female recipients is the Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE).

Knight Banneret (Kt Bann) is a higher military ranking than Kt Bach and is conferred by the sovereign only on the battlefield (although proxies could suffice as long as the recipient's standard was on the battlefield). Knight bannerets were medieval knights who led troops into battle under their own banner. The last confirmed bestowal of a Knight Banneret was by Charles I in 1642.

Dormant Orders

The installation dinner for the founding of the Order of St Patrick that took place on 17 March 1783 in the Great Hall of Dublin Castle.

The installation dinner for the founding of the Order of St Patrick that took place on 17 March 1783 in the Great Hall of Dublin Castle.

Current Orders


This collection is packed with fascinating details surrounding some of the most influential figures in British and world history. If you are fortunate to find a distinguished ancestor within the records, be sure to search our collection of historic British Newspapers for corresponding reports. It's also worth noting that, the index will be updated every six months (January and June) in response to the New Year Honours list and Queen's Birthday Honours list respectively.

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